alampasis@gmail.com

Τετάρτη, 23 Ιανουαρίου 2013

Serious privacy infringement from Facebook



I. The 'Time Stamp' on iPhone's Mobile App, provides without your consent information to your fb friends about your last online facebook connection ('Last Active') when accessing facebook from a mobile device

II. 'Seen' function, in pm correspondance with your friends on facebook

- The report on facebook for violation of my private life, caused by the functions 'Time Stamp' - 'Last Active', that appears on my friends' iphone facebook mobile app. 
- Uninstallation of facebook mobile app from iPhone here and from Android here, due to serious infringement of my privacy.
- The emerging legal issues will be submitted for judgement to the competent Bodies and Courts, in case that Facebook does not suggest an explicit way to disable the above functions.

Personal Data is any information that relate to any individual's private, professional or public life. Any bit of information could be characterised as personal data: a name, a picture, an email address, bank account specifications, posts in social networks, medical information or your computer's IP address. The EU Charter for Fundamental Rights states that everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her in all aspects of his or her life: at home, at work, as a patient, in a police station or on the Internet.
According to EU Law, personal data can be legally collected only under strict conditions, for a legitimate basis laid down by law. Furthermore, persons or organizations collecting and handling your personal data are bound to protect it form misuse and respect certain rights of the subjects of these data, which are guaranteed by EU Law.

Social Networks like facebook constitute a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends, relatives and colleagues, but encompass the danger of having your personal information, your photos and your comments being published quite further than what you would have imagined. In some cases, this can have consequences on the financial status, reputation and psychological state of individuals.

I. I have recently discovered, to my amazement, that in my iPhone Facebook Mobile app, in the field 'chat' (emerges if one drags the screen to the left), beside the profil pic and name of some of my friends, there was a strange icon depicting a cell phone and right next to it, there was a time stamp of their last connection on facebook!!! This time stamp takes the form of "2 min ago", "10 hours ago", "2 days ago"etc [screenshot here]. Immediately I called my sister (we're facebook friends) and asked her if she sees the same time stamp on her iPhone beside my name. She confirmed my suspicions [screenshot here].

After applying trial and error we found out that the time stamp appears a) even if someone is not available to chat on line b) even if someone has not liked or commented on a post etc (i.e. for the registation of your 'last active' time stamp it's enough to review content through the app!!!) and c) even if someone has not logged in Facebook by using his username and password. It also seems that, while on the one hand, this time stamp is not visible in Facebook mobile app for Android devices, nevertheless, if someone logs in to Facebook through the app using an Android device then the stamp in the Iphone is automatically updated. Finally, logging in to facebook from web (i.e. Chrome, IE, Firefox) does not register.

By keeping track of my friends' time stamp, I saw lawyers who would normally be in court litigating by 9 a.m. and then run through their day, logging in Facebook in 4 a.m., married men who should be in bed with their wives logging in every night from 2 to 4 a.m., newly married friend couples logging in and out in 30 min intervals, a lawyer friend whom I called and told me he was on a business appointment logging in a minute after we hung up and a teacher logging in when she was supposed to be in class teaching children... This way, these people lost all credibility from my perspective.

After extensive googling on how to turn this function off, I was surprised to find out that all views converged to the conclusion that this function cannot be disabled by the user. In my quest for answers, and after exhausting Facebook Help Center's content, I entered the facebook user community, where users are trying to obtain a responsible answer to their question on "how to turn off the 'last active' function". Up until now, it seems that no satisfactory answer is being given (see the question here - logging in Facebook required).

Consequently, I sent Facebook a report for breach of my privacy, while at the same time requesting for a solid suggestion on how I could turn this 'last active' time stamp off. The report is published here and the confirmation of reception by Facebook hereAfter that, not being able to tolarate this straightforward and unprecedented infringement of my privacy, I went on to uninstall the app from all my mobile devices (relevant videos for iPhone here and Android here).

This uninstallment, it is obvious, constitutes a ban or an otherwise serious -coerced- limitation on my right to free internet access. Internet access into which access to social networks is encapsulated, is a human right according to UN Report from 16/05/2011, which means it's a fundamental right and a fundamental freedom to which everyone is entitled.

II. The 'Seen' function, in pm correspondence with your facebook friends. The compulsion that Facebook exercises regarding the immediacy on replying messages.

Lately Facebook introduced in personal messages that users exchange the 'seen' feature.  This new feature allows the sender to know exactly when the recipient opened and hence read the message. That means that opening a message and replying in an untimely manner could be easily interpreted by the sender as a disregard on part of the recipient, or otherwise as a lack of the recipient's attention, that the sender is hoping to attract. The outcome of this feature, is that users are coercively obliged to not read the message (avoid opening the message even if they have been notified about its delivery)!!! This practice of coercing the receiver into not reading messages creates profound distortions, such as having the receiver knowingly ommit opening a message in the case of an emergency, in order to avoid letting the sender that the message is read. 

The following example is didactic:
My good friend Aristides sent me a message, which I was not in any mood to open because I just had a fight with my girlfriend. The message in the notifications' snippet looked like this. Reading the first two lines, that is, the message did not seem important. I didn't open this message (hence didn't read it) because I didn't want to upset Aristides, knowing that had I opened it, Aristides would be immediately notified I read it and by replying with considerable tardiness, this tardiness of mine could be interpreted as transient disregard by my good friend. So, I chose not to open the message when it arrived, and save it for a later time when I felt I could be up to replying... But when I later on opened the message, I was surprised to find that what Aristides wanted to tell me was "a matter of life and death"!!!

This odd situation created by the 'seen' feature, is crystal clear when it comes to messages sent by my clients, friends, lawyers and others for my nameday (screenshot here). I do not dare open these messages today, because the sender will be immediately notified of the exact time I read them!!! Not responding to wishes sent on your nameday, is - in any case - at least rude.... On the other hand, I'd really like to read those wishes, but I do not want to answer them at once, because I'm writing this article. So, I'm forced to not take cognizance of these wishes and the consequent joyous feelings, procrastinating the satisfaction for a later time, when I'll be up to responding those messages at once!!!!!

But I do not want to let my clients and collegues see I read their messages on Monday morning, because this way I will show that instead of being in Court, I'm reading messages on Facebook.... This could be interpreted as a lousy business phase though, an impression I certainly DON'T WANT to create.... This way, I'm forced to read the messages on my free time, and definitely not late at night (so I don't signal to everyone I'm a late sleeper, because I've got work to do in the morning), which has a serious impact on the management of my spare time, and, thus, the free expression of my personality..."

Written by Thanasis Alampasis, Attorney at Law in Athens, Greece
Originally published in Greek here
Translated from Greek to English by Spyridon Adam, Attorney at Law in Athens, Greece